Football: Hoddle has little to fear

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The Independent Online
Italy should now hold few real fears for Glenn Hoddle at Wembley next month. The England coach flew out of Sicily brimming with confidence after watching Cesare Maldini's reign stutter into life with a 2-0 friendly win over Northern Ireland on Wednesday, writes Rob King from Palermo.

"This is a team which offers minimum guarantees," said an unimpressed La Gazetta dello Sport newspaper, while Gianfranco Zola was more forthright.

"Let's be honest," said the Chelsea striker, "if Arrigo Sacchi had still been on the bench, we would probably have gone off to boos and whistles."

The individual skills of the goalscorers, Zola and Alessandro Del Piero, could not mask a communal lack of ideas, the sort of sterility which plagued the last throes of Sacchi's reign and prompted his replacement by Maldini.

Hoddle's diplomacy could not hide his optimism before the World Cup qualifier at Wembley on 12 February. "I don't know about vulnerability, because they were not put under as much pressure as hopefully we're going to subject them to," the England coach said. "But there were definitely things there I saw where we can cause them problems."

An ordinary-looking midfield, an uncertain defence with Ciro Ferrara trying out a new role as a sweeper, and Amedo Carboni's jitters in the new wing-back system all offer room for exploitation.

"It was interesting to see the way he has changed things," Hoddle said. "It's early days and it was not drastic, but he obviously has his own thoughts and, although there may be one or two changes, I think this was pretty close to what we might see at Wembley.

"It's difficult to judge their performance. It's the first match under a new manager and all you want in that situation is to start with a win. They have got that. That was important for them, it gives them confidence going into the game against us."

Bryan Hamilton, the Northern Ireland manager, said: "Although it will be a very different game at Wembley, Glenn Hoddle will have learned a lot from this and will have gone away feeling much better than when he landed.

"We showed how to frustrate them defensively, how to limit their chances, but I also felt that we pointed out areas where they can be exposed. Glenn will have taken a lot from that.

"Considering how many players we were missing, I was delighted with our performance. They are a very talented side with some wonderful players. But we handled them well."

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